In Slovenia, they are investigating the case of a married couple accused of working for Russian illegal intelligence. Although the Slovenian intelligence services detained the spouses, who had Argentinean passports, back in December, the details of their intelligence activities have surfaced only now. Information has also appeared about allegedly ongoing negotiations with the Russian side on the exchange of arrested illegal immigrants. With details – the correspondent of “Kommersant” in the Balkans Gennady Sysoev.
The first brief information about the detention of “two Russian spies” in Slovenia appeared in the media at the end of January, but the topic did not develop then, and no significant details followed. Details have surfaced only now – after the publication in the British The Guardian and the investigations conducted by the Balkan media.
In early December, the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency (Sova) arrested 38-year-old spouses Ludwig Gish and Maria Mayer, charging them with spying for Russia. Together with two children, the couple lived in a small villa in Chrnuch, a suburb of Ljubljana. Both had Argentinean passports, from where they moved to Slovenia in 2017, explaining to their neighbors that they were tired of living in fear because of street crime. Maria opened an art gallery, and Ludwig registered an IT company.
Without exception, the neighbors of the “Argentinian couple” speak of them as “ordinary, pleasant, unobtrusive people” with “ordinary children who played in their yard and spoke loudly in Spanish.” Therefore, everyone was extremely surprised when, in December, the house 35, where the family lived, was raided by police and special services.
On the same day, the couple was detained, and the children were sent to the guardianship service.
The house, as well as the office rented by the spouses in the Ljubljana quarter of Bezhigrad, was searched. As a result, as investigators confirm, “a large amount of currency was found in the office, which took several hours to count and census.” The spouses did not explain that they had so much money, but the investigation believes that they used the currency to pay informants.
Sources in Ljubljana told The Guardian that “the detainees” Maria and Ludwig “are in fact illegal Russian spies.” Other Slovenian sources elaborated: “Mayer and Gish worked for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.” This was actually confirmed at the end of last week by Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanya Fayon, who told reporters that “the arrested couple are actually citizens of Russia, not Argentina.” And the representative of the Slovenian police, Drago Menegalia, explained: “The detainees are representatives of a foreign intelligence service who used illegally acquired passports of another state in order to live and work in Slovenia under false names and engage in secret information gathering.”
Former employees of the Slovenian special services, on condition of anonymity, say that Russian illegal intelligence agents did not choose Slovenia by chance. The country is a member of NATO and the EU, located in the center of Europe. The people living in it have the opportunity to visit neighboring states almost freely. In addition, Slovenia has a non-rigid counterintelligence regime.
“Slovenian Sova would hardly have ever suspected them of anything, if not for a tip from a partner intelligence service of one large country,” one of the sources admitted.
It turned out that, using their firms, the couple often visited other countries. So, Maria Mayer visited neighboring Croatia at least twice and several times in the UK to promote her art gallery and organize exhibitions. And Ludwig Gish visited Germany last year when a representative cybersecurity conference was held there, although the product that his company offered, as IT experts say, “is five years behind Europe, and even what they do in Russia”.
Now the arrested spouses are awaiting trial in a pre-trial detention center in Ljubljana. Under Slovenian law, they face up to eight years in prison for espionage. However, in the event of a guilty verdict, Ludwig Gish and Maria Mayer will not necessarily end up behind bars.
According to the Ljubljana edition of Delo and some other media, “in Moscow they did not disown the couple arrested in Slovenia,” and closed negotiations are currently underway between representatives of Russia and the West about their possible exchange for someone who was detained in the Russian Federation.